Sunday, 15 May 2011

Calendar Entry #6: Festivals of Hathor and Bast

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.

Festival of Hathor - Beautiful Feast of the Desert Valley

Hathor, as the Mistress of the West, emerges
from a hill representing the Theban necropolis.
By all references that I've found this festival is most probably referring to the Beautiful Feast of the Desert Valley, of which Het-Hert (Hathor) played a major role.  It was observed during the third season of Shemu (sometimes written as Shomu). On our modern calendar, that would occur sometime in mid-May. This festival, also known as heb nefer en inet was an annual festival in Thebes that dates back at least as far as the Middle Kingdom (a period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the start of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, between 2055 BC and 1650 BC). 

This was essentially a festival of the dead, and was held in the desert to the west of Thebes, an area sacred to Het-Hert in her funerary role of Lady of the West.  During the festival, which lasted several days, a statue of Amun (Amun-Ra in later times) was carried, from Karnak temple,  in a grand procession across the Nile River from east to west to visit mortuary temples on the opposite bank.  This journey was symbolic;  Amun-Ra, through his oracle statue, traveled to the west to pay his respects to the Akhu, the blessed dead.

Limestone relief of the Beautiful Feast of the Valley,
found within the enclosure of the Temple of Het-Hert at Deir el Medina
The Beautiful Feast of the Valley was a joyous celebration of death, similar to Dia de los Muertes in Mexico, although one source suggests that it would have had more of a Mardi Gras feel to it, in which banqueting, dancing and other festivities at the necropolis sought to bring joy to all the dead interred there.  During this festival Het-Hert was constantly present, being the patroness of the festivities.  The deceased were presented with items attributed to Het-Hert - the sistrum and Hathor's necklace.  Many graves have been found containing offerings to her.

The Ancient Egyptian word 'nfr' (transliterated to nefer) means not only beautiful but has also connotations of wholeness, vitality and perfection. There are prayers carved in the Temple of Het-Hert at Dendera, made during festival times where people address the goddess asking for bodily health and vitality. 

Festival of Bast

The cat goddess Bast – Ancient Egyptian
sculpture in Louvre museum
This was also a day to celebrate the Festival of Bast.  However, there are some sources who quote that it is the festival of Hathor and Bast.  Unfortunately, the information regarding a joint festival seems to be the same copied and reproduced on the many websites around.  No books or other sources, that I have been able to access, have confirmed that there was a joint festival.  Most sources say that on this day are the festivals of Hathor and Bast - plural, indicating that they are separate.  This is how I am going to treat them.  

The festivals of Bast were some of the most popular in Egypt, because of the music, dancing and wine.  Men and women sailed together along the Nile, singing, clapping, shaking rattles and playing flutes.  As they passed people or towns, everyone would start to sing and cheer together.  In Bubastis the festival began with sacrifices to Bast.  The Temple of Bast stood in the centre of town so all could see it.  Worshippers came from all over Egypt leaving offerings, bronze statues, amulets and mummified cats in her temple - thousands of cat remains have been found in underground crypts where the temple once stood. 

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